An estimated 5 tonnes of rock lobster have walked onto the shores of the province since Tuesday amid a developing red tide on the West Coast.
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In a statement, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) said on Wednesday that it had activated the West Coast Rock Lobster Contingency Plan and issued a Situation Red Alert, which places all government role-players in the sector on full alert and ready to deploy on short notice to activate measures.
“Department officials, together with the local municipalities and law enforcement are working together to assist in rescuing live lobsters and with clean-up operations,” said the department.
“All recovered live lobster will be rehabilitated and will be safely returned to sea once the red tide threat has abated,” the department said.
The department stated that there has been a build-up of large red tides in the greater St. Helena Bay region over the past few weeks, adding that blooms of phytoplankton presently extend 50 to 60 kilometres, dominating waters in the vicinity of Elands Bay, Lambert’s Bay and Doring Bay.
“These blooms are dominated by a group of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates and their inshore accumulation particularly during periods of calm often leads to their decay and the subsequent development of low oxygen conditions which cause marine mortalities.
“Such mortalities were observed on the beaches of Elands Bay earlier (Wednesday).”
“Some of these dinoflagellates are also capable of producing toxins that may accumulate in shellfish and may pose a risk to human health.”
“For this reason, members of the public are warned not to collect and consume any dead or decayed fish and shellfish washed ashore as a result of the red tide as this could pose a serious health hazard.”
Red tides have periodically led to rock lobster strandings in the Benguela upwelling region off the West Coast of Southern Africa including, the stranding of hundreds of tonnes of rock lobsters in Elands Bay in 1997 and 2000.
An extensive and long-lasting red tide occurred for the first time along the South Coast in 2014, extending from Knysna to beyond Port Elizabeth and causing wide-scale fish mortalities.
Public urged not to consume contaminated seafood as red tide spreads